City Comptroller Robert E. Whelan, emphasizing the need "to bring this city together," withdrew today as a candidate for mayor of Buffalo and announced his support of Assemblyman William B. Hoyt.
Whelan made the announcement at a midmorning news conference in the Ellicott Square with Hoyt, the endorsed Democratic candidate for mayor, at his side.
In ending the mayoral campaign he entered six months ago, Whelan declined to be specific about his political plans. But he would not rule out a possible run for State Supreme Court.
A jubilant Hoyt said Whelan's withdrawal was the "first step toward unity" and a possible one-on-one race against Mayor Griffin, a candidate for a fourth four-year term.
"I predict we'll get closer to that magical one-on-one race which we know is the best -- but not the only -- way to retire Jimmy Griffin," declared Hoyt.
Vincent J. Sorrentino, the Erie County Democratic chairman who helped persuade Whelan to quit the mayoral race, said State Sen. Anthony M. Masiello, another mayoral candidate, is reassessing his candidacy.
Political sources predict Masiello will withdraw as a candidate, possibly this weekend.
With Whelan out of the race and the expected withdrawal of Masiello, the field of mayoral candidates could be down to three -- Griffin, Hoyt and Wilbur P. Trammell, who resigned as chief judge of City Court to run for mayor.
While Trammell has insisted he will remain in the race, Sorrentino said Democratic leaders plan another effort to persuade him to drop out of the contest.
A three-candidate race for mayor is "do-able" for Hoyt, Sorrentino said at the news conference. "But the best-case scenario is a one-on-one race."
Asked if he would recommend Whelan for Supreme Court, Sorrentino said Whelan would be considered if he expresses an interest. "I'm not saying there is a commitment. Nothing is decided," added Sorrentino.
Two Supreme Court seats will be on the ballot in the Western New York 8th Judicial District in the Nov. 7 general election. Justice James B. Kane Jr., an Orchard Park Democrat who is a candidate for re-election, is assured of one of the Democratic nominations.
Sorrentino has the votes in Erie County to control the second nomination, which will be voted at a judicial convention to be held after the Sept. 12 primary.
Whelan, a lawyer, won the Democratic nomination for county surrogate in 1981, but lost in the general election to Republican Joseph S. Mattina.
"I stand four square behind Bill Hoyt," said Whelan at the news conference. "It's time to end the divisiveness and bring this city together. It's time to stop the racial and economic divisions. It's time for a change."
Asked about his criticism last week of Hoyt in connection with the unsuccessful effort to obtain state funds to pay refunds due Buffalo property owners under the Hurd Decision, Whelan said:
"There are areas where we are in full agreement. And there are areas where we are not in full agreement. Overall, Bill Hoyt has more strengths than the incumbent mayor."
Whelan had labeled Hoyt "Billy-Come-Lately" and said the assemblyman had done "absolutely diddly" in helping the City of Buffalo in the Hurd Case.
The Conservative Party is expected to endorse Griffin at a meeting of its executive committee tonight.
Griffin, who formally declared Monday as a candidate for re-election, is virtually assured of the support of the Republican, Conservative and Right to Life parties and also plans to file in the Democratic primary.
Whelan was the first candidate to enter the race, launching his candidacy Nov. 19 with a declaration that his decision to run was "irrevocable and irreversible."
Although a proficient fund-raiser and campaign organizer, his candidacy has failed to fly.
He garnered few votes when the party's Executive Committee met in March to endorse a candidate.
He later was dogged by rumors of poor health, speculation that he said was unfounded. Whelan said today his health is good and had nothing to do with his decision to leave the race.
Whelan, 45, was elected comptroller in 1975 and has served a record 13 years.
His withdrawal marks the second time in three years that he has withdrawn from a major race before the primary.
He sought the Democratic nomination for county executive in 1987 but Withdrew in the middle of the campaign.